6,728 yards, 133 slope from the Blues

Course:  In the Southern Indiana town of Laconia, Chariot Run GC is a course associated with the Horseshoe Casino, which is owned by Caesar’s.  Ranked as the third best public course by Golfweek in 2016, Chariot Run is a sprawling layout that relies on its elevation changes and bunkers for most of its character, subjecting itself to wind direction and adding to the variety and strategic adjustments of the round.  Trees come into play on a few holes, but rarely.  The course was designed by Bill Bergin, who has designed a number of solid courses in the south, including the Club at Foxland Harbor, Heritage Plantation, Mirimichi and the Auburn University Club.  One of the things that really stuck out to me on this course was the sky.  The course framed it well and more than many, it felt incorporated into several parts of the course.

I was in the general area and realized that it was possible to play a round in Indiana, which was a state I had not yet played.  I had been in Indiana several times in the past, but typically I was in the northern part of the state towards Michigan.  Southern Indiana had a little different feel to it and the course felt like it was out by itself, as the casino is located at least 15 minutes away, more towards the Ohio River.  When looking for a course to play in a new state, my criteria isn’t all that strict; mainly I’m looking for some where that’ll be a fun play with at least decent conditions and makes sense geographically.  I’ve been fortunate thus far in that my plans have always seem to work out and great rounds are usually had.  Each state and round has its own distinct memory for me and at this point, I start to think back on them as I’m able to bring another one into the fold.  Being the self-sabateur I am, I began to wonder if there would ever be a time when there would be a round that was…..terrible?  I mean, one of them has to be the least enjoyable, right?

The signs for this to be the least enjoyable round were there.  My swing was a roll of the dice, I had to rent a set of clubs and I was in some what of a time crunch to get the round in, coming off a flight and then a two-hour drive.  My clubs ended up not having a hybrid and only a set sand wedge, with old school fairway woods that were tough to hit.  So I was pretty much playing with irons, a driver and a putter.  I was all over the place at the range and even though I was early and no one seemed in sight on the First tee, the starter wouldn’t let me go early until he figured out what a foursome yet to tee off was doing.  I could feel it brewing, but was focused on getting the round in come hell or high water.  And after the doubling the First, I kind of accepted my fate, whether pre-destined or self-fulfilled, this would be the worst round I had of the fifty.

And as I came to the Second, a forced carry over water par 3, where the foursome the starter was so eagerly protecting allowed me to play through, thereby watching my tee shot, something very peculiar happened.  My first practice swing made so much sense to me and just like that, I got my swing back and hit the ball right at the pin for an easy par.  Then went par-bogey-par-par-bogey, with many shots played with rental set mid irons that I typically hit with hybrids.  Pouring in putts, surgical with the driver, I started really enjoying myself out there.  Then it happened – self-doubt.  could I keep it up, when was the swing going to collapse, etc. etc. until that’s exactly what happened, until it came back again a few holes later, finishing with a decent score, despite the hiccups.

If each state has its own memory for me, Indiana was a prime example of how much the mind plays a role in this game.  Having no expectations, enjoying the design of the course and scenery of the surroundings, led to some very good golf for me, regardless of the equipment, only to once again subside when my expectations started climbing back up and fear of disappointment and failure once again became an option.  As I was enjoying the slopes and contours of the fairways, that some how melded into the greens, and the bunkers, raised and sunken, all rising and falling in a nice rhythm, the clarity of how this game transcends the physics of the swing and club, delving much deeper than that, revealing itself more when your outlook and mind’s eye are self-aware and content; passive even…was a spiritual awakening of sorts.  It was only fitting that when I walked off the course, I went to the bar just in time to see the U.S. win the Ryder Cup, finally conquering their demons so to speak.

And a few rounds later, it was gone.  Such is golf, in its fleeting and fickle way.  Yet that round in Indiana, realizing as clear as ever how completely the internal shines or frowns on where the ball goes, was vivid, and significantly, insightful.  This crystallization was telling yet inevitable, as my game has been quite volatile this season.  I had a similar experience in Nebraska, playing much better as the mental weight began dropping.  For these types of things to happen, usually in other states, is one of the things that draws me to travel and journey, finding enlightenment when itinerant.

Or maybe I just liked watching the ball go into that sky.

The First is a 429 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  From a slightly elevated tee is a generous fairway where long grass is off green on both sides and further up the right side, the fairway starts sloping downhill towards water.  The green is set at an angle to the fairway, with pin positions on the left bringing the bunker below the green into play and on the right, bringing the water squarely into play.  The green runs from back to front.

The First.  The sky really makes an impression throughout the round.

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 148 yard par 3.  A forced carry over water to a nice deep green, it’s a nice step up in challenge from the First while still providing margins for error so early in the round, yet is a nice gut check hole that has the potential to set the tone early for the rest of the round.  Miss left if you’re going to miss.  

For me personally, this hole indeed changed the track my round was taking.  I was a single behind a foursome that seemed to be taking their time, which meant I was in for a lot of waiting between shots.    With a limited amount of balls, I couldn’t really play more than one ball without risking running out.  The foursome was nice enough to wait for me to finished putting out on the First and have me tee off on the Second to play through.  With how I was playing up to that point, there was a very real possibility of me push slicing wildly into the water or even onto the fairway of the First fairway, then simply driving to the Third, thanking the group for their courtesy.  Instead, I approached the shot with a whole lot of calm, realizing I’d never see these nice people ever again, reminding myself to turn my hips and watched as the 7i was hit 10 yards further than I usually hit it, at the pin yet all the way at the back of the green.  At any rate, of course I three-putted, joked with the group that I was telling everyone I parred the hole anyways, and moved on, feeling a bit reinvigorated.

The Second

The Third is a 326 yard par 4.  A short yet uphill par 4, the fairway is yet again generous as it climbs slightly towards the right, with the green off to the left side, sloping up towards the center, then falling off towards the left and to the left back side of it.  There are bunkers on the left short of the hole that should be avoided.  There are also some off to the right that really shouldn’t come into play except for some pretty bad shots.  Another par here and I’m feeling great in Indiana.

The Third.  Sky is still looking incredible.

Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 163 yard par 3.  A fairly demanding par 3 where staying straight is most important, as the bunker complex on the right is treacherous and bunkers on the left can result in a pretty difficult recovery shot.  The green is tame, so focus on getting on the green, or just short, to walk away with a nice score here.

Another personal adventure story here.  I teed off, saw my ball hit the green, and started to muse to myself how easy this game is.  As I’m patting myself on the back trying to drive to the green, I’m wondering why the cart path goes so far out of the way to get there.  As I get there, I take my putter out and start walking to my ball.  All of a sudden, another twosome drives up and they get out too.  They look at me and I look at them.  I then ask, “this isn’t the Fourth green, is it?”  They tell me no, it’s the Seventh.  Apparently, the Fourth goes in the other direction entirely.  So I sheepishly get my ball and slink off to the Fourth tee again.  Such a waste of a good shot, but shame on me for not realizing the tees were in the wrong direction.  Of course my real shot on the Fourth went into the bunkers on the right and I was happy to leave with a bogey.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 487 yard par 5.  A slight dog leg left that has water along the right and a wide fairway, providing an array of options for how you’d like to attack the hole.  The green complex is protected well by bunkers, so use the generosity of the hole to set up the most comfortable approach shot possible.  There is a lot of short grass area around the green, so even ending up short leaves you with some opting to get to the pin.

The Fifth

Second shot territory

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

The water tower, in all its glory

The gallery

The Sixth is a 334 yard par 4.  Separating itself from what has come before, the fairway landing area is blind from the tee area, dropping out of sight and twisting to the right, with trees off the left and bunkers off the right.  Water then comes in on the left up to the green while the fairway comes up a little to the green, with a center bunker protecting it on the front.  It’s a hole where the ease of the approach shot is directly proportional to the execution of the tee shot.

So after nailing my tee shot, watching it majestically draw towards the right bunkers, then turn back and drop down to the center of the fairway, leaving me with a great approach shot, I started to wonder how long this would keep up.  I was hitting great shots and it was coming easy; didn’t there have to be some struggle at some point?  Sure enough, my second shot was a grounder and headed right into the water on the left.  And just like that, the mental game became the worst hazard out there.  I was able to get up and down after the drop, but then and there, I realized just how powerful self-doubt is.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

I don’t even want to know what happened here

The Seventh is a 479 yard par 4.  Following the theme of the Sixth, the fairway is a bit smaller and narrow than we’ve seen up to this point with water on the right and bunkers and mounds on the right.  The Seventh dog legs left and slightly uphill to the green, which is wide and shallow, protected in the front center by a larger bunker.  Closer to and around the green is the toughest part of the hole, but its width (despite its slopes), helps ease the challenge a little.

The Seventh

Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 479 yard par 5.  Bunkers line the fairway on both sides, which descends and turns right to the green, which is above the fairway.  Like the Fifth, there is a lot of discretion in terms of placing your second shot to set up the third, keeping in mind that there are bunkers on the right front side of the green that need to be avoided at all costs.  Even for my now wonky swing, I was able to hit a nice low shot to the left side of the green, that fell and turned right towards the pin.  While there is a lot of room and options on the par 5’s, they are adequately defended for those that try to reach in two shots.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Ninth is a 411 yard par 4.  The more narrow fairway theme continues, as the fairway off the tee slopes from right to left, towards a sunken bunker complex on the left side.  The fairway continues to climb to the green, where bunkers pop up on either side in different spots to the green, that slopes from back to front.  The swing was wavering at this point and limped in on the front after bad scores on the Seventh and Ninth.

Moving up the fairway

Generally, the front nine loops the property, with some moderate elevation changes, a few very nice holes and enough character for every hole to be distinct and enjoyable.  There wasn’t a weak hole.  While it’s tough to do so because I what hole is towards the end doesn’t do it justice, I’d rank them 8, 6, 5, 2, 4, 9, 7, 3, 1.

The back nine starts with the 378 yard par 4 Tenth.  With the green in sight from the tee, this dog leg right falls from a ridge line downhill before it starts turning, resulting in a blind tee shot with bunkers of both sides of the fairway.  The fairway slides from left to right and the green is perpendicular to it, almost demanding a left to right ball flight to the green and bunkers on the front right.  Most approach  shots will be in a difficult spot in my estimation, making this a little more challenging than it looks.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 462 yard par 5.  One of the more interesting holes on the course, this par 5 starts with a tee shot chasing downhill.  The second shot presents an option of going shorter and safer, leaving you with a blind approach shot uphill to the green and over a nasty bunker complex, or go left and longer, which is a tougher shot but if pulled off, leaves you with a shorter approach shot to a green you should be able to see.  The options are great and as you get closer to the green, there are several different shots you can use.

The Eleventh

Second shot territory

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 151 yard par 3.  The elevated tee that is a forced carry over water to the green with bail out room to the right.  The green moves from right to left, towards the water.  While the right may look like a safe option, anything in the rough in those mounds gets very tricky very quickly.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 308 yard par 4.  A great short par 4 where the tee shot is a forced carry to the fairway above the tee area.  The fairway then forks to either side, but going left gives you a better and short look at the pin.  The green undulates and ripples, making placement on the approach vital and thereby making placement off the tee more important than it seems.  Considering the bunkers and contours, the safe areas to play are also a lot less in what looks wide open.

The Thirteenth.  One of my favorite photos of the year.

Approach shot territory, with the green straightaway 

The Fourteenth is a 382 yard par 4.  The hole is all downhill with cross bunkers coming into play off the tee.  A well hit tee shot with either carry them and hit the fairway in between, then get some nice roll.  The approach is to a pitched green that falls off the front to a creek, and falls off the other sides, except for the left where there are bunkers.

The Fourteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 159 yard par 3.  The last par 3 is a downhill tee shot over the creek we just encountered at the Fourteenth to a larger green with bunkers in unassuming areas around it.  Most decent shots should find the green and only severely under-hit shots will find the creek.  We see trees start to assert themselves here as well.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 350 yard par 4.  The only hole where trees are predominant factor, the hole breaks slightly to the right while ascending gently to the green.  The tee shot must hit the fairway, but bunkers and trees on both sides make that a little more complicated.  The green is a platform above the fairway, protected by a sunken bunker on front center.  It’s a solid par 4 that demands two well hit shots for a chance at par.

The Sixteenth 

Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 381 yard par 4.  Another downhill hole, but the tee shot is blind and bunkers on both sides make hitting the fairway important.  The green is wide and open in the front, but runs away from you, so aiming to the front of the green is the safe play, especially since the greenside bunkers are not anything you’d want to see in a dark alley.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 458 yard par 5.  Parallel with the Ninth and heading uphill to the clubhouse, the tee shot is a forced carry over water.  The fairway slopes from left to right, with sunken bunkers off to the right.  There are also some tough bunkers off to the left of the green, which runs from back to front.  The uphill lengthens the hole some what, but just like the other par 5’s, you have the luxury of deciding what type of approach shot you’d prefer and set it up with the first two shots.  It’s a nice finishing hole that’s gives you a chance to end on a good note.

The Eighteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The back nine is a little bolder than the front, yet there is some redundancy with a couple of the holes, mainly the downhill par 4’s.  The par 3’s aren’t as interesting, but the shorter par 4’s were more interesting than the front.  The character ranged a bit more than the front, in both good and bad ways.  I’d rank them 13, 11, 17, 10, 18, 16, 12, 14, 15.

In general, Chariot Run has a very heathland style feel to it that reminded me at times of Wyncote.  Moderate terrain used very well and rhythmically, with very good bunkering and contours that can be incorporated into most shots.  Another aspect of the course I liked a lot were the greens; they were interesting and unique without anything that would feel tricked up or manufactured.  There were many solid holes where acumen off the tee was emphasized the most, but all other aspects of the game were sufficiently tested as well.  For the amount of the green fee, it was an absolute value as well.

As for me, lessons were learned and the journey both within and without were well travelled.  Another state was conquered and the memories were worthwhile.  All of it.

Gripes:  There was no marshall and even though the front nine was great, the back nine was s-l-o-w because of a couple twosomes ahead of me that were painfully slow.  Would have loved for a marshall to come out and clear that up.  The different in yardage between the White and Blue tees is a little over 600 yards.  That can probably be adjusted a little so both tees are a little more attractive to more players.  6100 can be a little too short for a lot of players while 6700 is a little too long.

Bar/Grill:  A casual indoor and outdoor area, good for beers after the round and a quick bite.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Well stocked with a nice logo.  Not sure why I didn’t pick anything up, but such is life.

Practice area:  A nice grass range and separate chipping and putting green.

Nearby:  Well, the Horseshoe Casino is nearby.  So is Louisville.  That’s all I got.